After being talked about all summer, Joris Gnagnon continues his third professional season at Rennes, where for him, everything started. He was still playing in CFA two years ago; the kid from Bondy has given goosebumps to scouts of some of Europe’s biggest clubs. From Tottenham to Dortmund, Chelsea, Monaco and even Marseille, only a few ambitious clubs have not tried to sign Joris during last summer’s mercato. The prodigy from Rennes, who kept his feet on the ground ‘to grow’ is now trying to build himself away from the noise of last summer.
Gnagnon is the portrait of a central defender with a dazzling trajectory. Rennes is known for its rainy life, its dolmens and its typical ‘galette-saucisse’. If these are part of the city’s heritage, then the training center of the Red and Black could also be an
obligatory passage. Not for tourists of course, but for any gifted kid with a ball at their feet. For a good decade now, Rennes has made a name for itself thanks to its training center. Although they don’t win much, the club brings out great talents: Silvestre, Dabo, Wiltord, Reveillère, Briand, Gourcuff, M’Vila and more recently, Tiémoué Bakayoko and Ousmane Dembelé. Rennes is one of the bearers of French training formations, and Christian Gourcuff, former SRFC coach and former Rennes graduate, knows it better than anyone. By taking over the club at the beginning of the 2016-2017 season, replacing Rolland Courbis, the iconic French tactician focused his project on Rennes’ academy. He based his project on some of Rennes’ finest academy projects, from Prcic, Hunou, Said and Diakhaby. But a Bondynois which nobody except Gourcuff would have bet on would soon overshadow all.
At the age of 19, over 6ft tall and with barely any playing time, Joris Gnagnon, a Franco- Ivorian central defender, truly discovered the top level in early autumn 2016 and quickly won his spot in the axis of the permeable defense. It was a prodigious ascent, almost unexpected. We often say that only a few things are needed to change a career for better or worse, and Joris knows it better than anyone. His career could have taken a different turn. Shortly after arriving in Rennes, he severely injured his meniscus and was out for five months. That is an eternity for a young player who is so close to fulfilling his dream of having a professional career. But an injury doesn’t always ruin talent, and Gnagnon returned quickly and stronger.
With a great run in the Gambardella 2015 and a few pro appearances in early 2016 with Philippe Montanier, a coach who admires him a lot, the kid, born in Bondy, signed his first professional contract. It was not a finality, but a beginning. Gnagnon knew it: Mexer and Armand were starting in Montanier’s backline. But neither them, nor the crack of his meniscus, would prevent the kid from Î’le-de-France to reach the highest level. It was the beginning of many steps forward. Here we are, back in the summer of 2016. The second Gourcuff-era starts. Ousmane Dembele will soon become a Borussia Dortmund player. Chantôme arrives and a couple of kids will become pro. Yoann’s dad’s message is clear: youngsters, it’s your time to play. Armand is no longer part of his plans; the Mozambican Mexer starts, along with the Algerian Bensebaini, after an impressive season on loan in Montepellier. And then, after a dozen games, Gourcuff was obliged to review his plans.
A Mexer injury made way for Joris Gnagnon to start in Ligue 1, one night in October, against FC Metz. As of that moment, he would not leave the starting lineup of Christian Gourcuff until the end of the season. Rennes were on bouncing from 6th to 7th, enjoying a charming run of form. Without producing revolutionary football, Stade Rennais were taking points and fought for a long time to qualify for Europe. Finally, the group of Pinault cracked towards the end. They would finish 9th, in a general indifference that has characterized this club for many years now.
However, Rennes has acquired certainties. Despite failing to make all the youngsters succeed, Rennes had found a real boss in Joris Gnagnon. But soon, the most complicated match would begin, the one against the summer transfer window. Very quickly, Gourcuff sets the tone. No, neither Bensebaini nor Gnagnon will leave the Atlantic coast, regardless of the number of zeroes on the cheque.
Sevilla, Marseille, Monaco, Tottenham, Dortmund- all have, more or less, made contact towards the young Franco-Ivorian. But Gourcuff and the board did not flinch: for them, it was out of the question to reproduce a case similar to that of Ousmane Dembele, who left quickly to join the Ruhr and the Yellow Wall. It was an opinion shared by Gnagnon himself, aware that he needed to settle in Rennes before claiming a starting spot in a top club.
Down to earth and confident, with his ideas well known, Gnagnon surprised everyone with his calmness, both on and off the field. A calm and uprightness that, when the delicate choice of his national selection comes, allowed him to lay down and evaluate the possibilities. Between France and Ivory Coast, the choice is not simple but paradoxically obvious for him. He chose Ivory Coast, a choice of heart, which made his mother proud. The fact that he has to fight for a spot in the team next to Eric Bailly, Lamine Koné or Wilfried Kanon did not matter. He chose a team that is struggling to regain its brilliance of the Drogba era, and that just last week, crashed out of World Cup Qualifying.
Gnagnon is a measured, humble man, something everyone agrees upon, from his first teachers to his (former) coaches in Rennes, but also his (ex) teammates or his friends, like Dembelé. At a time when another Bondynois chose to leave his comfort zone to reach the highest level, Joris is enjoying himself and is calm. His complicated start to the season, along with the bad form of Rennes confirms that nothing is acquired easily; he is only 20 years old, and it’s never easy to focus after such a tumultuous summer. A career always hangs by a thread and Joris knows this.
After five years of fighting and impeccably defeating the towers of fate, Gnagnon learned that the virtues of work overcome all obstacles. His cell phone will be ringing again this winter and in the summer, but Rennes knows they won’t be able to hold him any longer. After being hired as Rennes manager this week, Sabri Lamouchi is already rubbing his hands at the prospect of working with Joris Gnagnon.
By: Max Vendrell/@MaxVendrell
Translated by: @Leahvdc2